Just as Mary Hatch and George Bailey listened to Sam Wainwright’s “chance of a lifetime offer” in the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life; newly installed EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy’s Harvard audience listened as she explained last week that preventing climate change is the “opportunity of a lifetime.” Administrator McCarthy touted sparking innovation, growing jobs and strengthening the economy as just a few of the opportunities presented by curbing greenhouse gases. Her suggestion that environmental protection can spur economic growth should foster a consensus that will be critical to achieving results on this often divisive issue.
Building the necessary coalition will be a challenge given the new Administrator’s history with controversial rulemakings on vehicular and power plant emissions, ozone limits and intrastate smokestack pollution, which were promulgated while she headed up EPA’s Air and Radiation Office. Indeed, Senator Joe Manchin, III R-WV, complained during the confirmation hearings that she was “waging a war on coal.” Those hearings ended with an historic 59-40 vote, occurring only after Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, threatened to change Senate rules to prevent filibusters. Her past stints as environmental aide to half-dozen governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut, including Mitt Romney, should assuage the opposition.
Administrator McCarthy expressly recognized the difficulty of the task and vowed to follow state and local governments’ lead. She also offered congratulations to Boston, Somerville and Massachusetts on their cleanup successes, while stressing that EPA will not dictate solutions but collaborate on the path forward. Although George and Mary passed on Sam’s chance of a lifetime offer to “get in on the ground floor of plastics,” they still wound up with a pretty wonderful life. We may all need a guardian angel to find common ground on regulating climate change to foster economic growth. But the payoff will make all of us the “richest men in town.”